Thursday, November 26, 2009

Decorating with Boris

A relatively unexplored area of decorating is the selection and placement of movie posters. Posters reflect a persons's taste and passion. While some posters may only be purchased because their shape and size covers imperfections in a wall, some may take on the aura of family portraits.

This poster adorns my kitchen bringing a touch of mystery and culture to the centre of the household.

As I spent a joyful couple of hours going through the wares of a shop it occurred to me that I - one of the world's noted Charlie Chan fans - I did not have a Charlie Chan poster among my collection. I turned to the vendor's assistant and, barely able to contain the excited anticipation from my voice, asked "Do you have Charlie Chan at the Opera"? "Why?" he responded. "What's so hot about Charlie Chan at the Opera?" Taken aback may accurately describe my reaction to his query, but it was more than that. I was shocked. It's always surprising when the people who sell these treasures aren't as committed to the items as the customer. Where, I wondered, oh, where was that nice teenage girl who was here a couple of months ago? We had rhapsodised for a good half hour on Im-Ho-Tep.

"Perhaps," I responded politely, yet coldly, "if I used the full title card you will realize the folly of your question. I am speaking of Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff in Charlie Chan at the Opera." Unimpressed, the lackey pointed in a vague direction. "Yeah, that's here somewhere."

Boris Karloff (Gravelle) and Warner Oland (Chan)

I love a mystery and a backstage mystery is something special. When that backstage is at an opera house - well, it just doesn't get any better. Boris is a sympathetic and confused mad man as opera star Gravelle. Is he seeking vengeance or justice? His presence as a character and as a star brings an added oomph to this highlight of the Chan series. Maurice Cass as Mr. Arnold has the immortal line: "I'm stage manager here and this opera's going on tonight even if Frankenstein walks in." As a child catching this movie on the late show my heart ached for poor misunderstood Gravelle. As an adult with box sets, it is a marvelous trip down memory lane. Somewhere along the line I've almost convinced myself I must have seen Oscar Levant's Carnival on PBS. Why are so many soprano characters named Lenore or Leonora?


A recent purchase.

The Mummy has proven a more problematic decorating item. While Jack Pierce's artistry is not to be denied, when one lives with others one must be aware that not everyone has the same sensibilities. I have found that placement in a dimly lit area of the house has worked well. A hallway or stairway leading to the basement. It adds to the creepiness while also affording an out for those who want to avoid its presence.


Ardeth Bey

On the other hand, there doesn't seem to be a place where Ardeth Bey is welcome. I'm considering the corner of a window in place of a "this property protected by such-and-such alarm company" sticker.

The Monster

Fortunately, I have found that Frankenstein's Monster is good to go anywhere. He's not just for Hallowe'en. The perfect fashion accessory for T-shirts, tote bags, handbags, backpacks and school lunch bags. A companionable face in a nursery. A sympathetic one next to the bathroom mirror. He makes a great conversation piece when framed and set among pictures of school children.

Of course, this time of year the Grinch is de rigueur. A tree ornament is a nice subtle touch. Perhaps a stuffed Grinch glowering from the corner. Husbands make a fine substitute. The folks three doors down have a large inflatable Grinch that sits atop their garage to the delight of the neighbourhood. The odd elf may get toppled over before the 25th of December, but nobody messes with the Grinch.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Princess and the Late Bloomer

Happy birthday to you.
Right back at ya'.



William (Teutonic for protector) meets Sara (Hebrew for princess). It's not an exceedingly rare occurence, but it is a lovely serendipitous one when father and daughter share a birthday. Born in 1887, Boris Karloff would meet his daughter in 1938 when he was 51 years old. Talk about your late bloomer!

Well, that's the way it is with the Sagittarius. They love their independence. They love to learn, valuing knowledge above all else. Those, like Sara and her dad, born on the cusp of Scorpio and Sagitarius have a stubborn streak that simply won't let them give up on a dream or an idea.

Actors are a little crazy to begin with. Surely the diplomatic career Bill Pratt's family had mapped out for him would have appealed to his intellectual curiosity and his interest in all sorts of people. However, when the theatre bug bites there is no known cure. Joining a Canadian troupe, it would be a long tough road to success, but it's unlikely Boris even looked at it from that point of view. Living the life of his own choosing probably made him feel like a success. You can spot him as an Indian in The Last of the Mohicans from 1920. The Sagittarius will work determinedly on any project. A determined actor would grab hold of Frankenstein's Monster and create a character that transcends his own lifetime. Surely an unimagined success worth the cost.

Whatever the role, Boris Karloff is a part of our lives. Do you stay up late on Hallowe'en to watch The Mummy for the thousandth time? Does your obsessive-about-his-movies (where does he get it?) autistic son watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas until it's coming out your pores? Are you convinced no one else should ever attempt to narrate Peter and the Wolf?

As Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) once opined on The Honeymooners: "Boris Karloff singing and dancing on The Red Skelton Show - that's not the real Boris Karloff. Frankenstein - now, that's the real Boris Karloff." The audience laughed then and laugh now because we appreciate the actor who created the characters, along with appreciating the characters who took on a life of their own.


The Actor

Sara has said in interviews that her father could point with pride and joy to the many facets of career, and as fans may well note, he always brought a level of professionalism to every project. Sometimes enjoying the same level of commitment from his creative comrades and sometimes dragging the rest of them along with him. Personal challenges are bread and butter to the Sagittarius.

Her Highness

Sara Karloff exhibits those traits of leadership and enthusiasm. As a youngster, she may not have been aware of her father's cinematic legacy, but as an adult she has resourcefully and adventurously kept her father's name and work in the spotlight with her website and appearances at fan conventions. Next autumn on October 23rd, Sara is involved in a mystery cruise abord the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's "Explorer of the Seas". Wouldn't you want to be the one to save her from a stalker?

Sara is a special torch bearer to fans. Fans who acknowledge that as long as film, television and recordings live - as long as imagination flourishes, Boris Karloff is an actor for the ages.

Someone else's birthday - October, 2008


For me?
Children are so cynical these days.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Proud Day!


Stan and Ollie. The Boys. Part of the family. Here in Babes in Toyland aka March of the Wooden Soldiers from 1937 Stan brings back his famous finger wiggle which continually confounds Oliver.



Janet (she of the alien-like long flute playing fingers) is a master at that finger wiggle. Henry Armetta in The Devil's Brother would be so jealous! Younger brother Gavin faces many challenges with his diagnosis of autism/developmental delay. In his younger years when life would get him down, Janet would amaze and calm him with a display of the famous finger wiggle. It was practically guaranteed to cheer the lad.

Dateline: Saturday, November 7, 2009 Gavin stood in the middle of the living room and placed his hands together. He stood in front of a mirror and - yes - he, Gavin himself, he performed the finger wiggle. Mommy cheered. Mommy hugged him too tight. Gavin blushed and grinned that grin that takes up his whole face. I rushed him to Janet. "Show Janet what you can do!" Again, the feat was greets with cheers and hugs, followed by more blushing and grinning.

Has there ever been a more blog-worthy, classic movie related moment? Well, not in this family. I think it may well trump seeing Ernest Borgnine getting whooped by One-arm Macreedy on the big screen.

Thanks, Ollie. Thank you, Stan.